Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Sevenoaks 7 2016

The Sevenoaks 7 (also known as the 7oaks7) is a seven mile race through Knole Park, the stunning deer park that surrounds Knole House in Sevenoaks, Kent. It is hosted by Sevenoaks Athletics Club and this year was the 23rd edition. It took place on the August bank holiday Monday. It's not the first time I have raced in Knole Park, in fact my first ever 10k race was run here and I returned to that race a few years later to see how much I had improved. However it was the first time I had run this particular race.

sevenoaks 7 / knole [photos: 7t]

The race HQ was at Sevenoaks Rugby Club which is about a 10 minute walk from the start-finish area of the race. I entered this race on-the-day and my lack of planning meant I had to pay a £15 entry fee. Had I been more organised and entered in advance I would have paid the very reasonable £11 affiliated runners fee. Unaffiliated runners would have paid £13 in advance.

pre-race [photos: m white / 7t]

For early arrivals parking was available at the rugby club. However the car park here isn't big enough for all entrants so extra parking was available free-of-charge at the near-by leisure centre. Toilets were available for use inside the rugby club clubhouse as were refreshments including tea, coffee and cake. I bumped into quite a few people that I know from the fantastic local running community and I always enjoy these pre-race chats.

start and course map from the official website [photos: m white / 7t]

The race itself started at 10.30am in the valley on the north-eastern side of Knole Park, not far from the footpath that leads directly from the rugby club into Knole. After quite an amusing welcome speech and briefing the runners were sent on their way. With the race taking place in the summer after a long period of dry weather, I decided to wear my light trail shoes, but road shoes would have done the job.

through the stunning deer park [photos: dani]

It was the first time I had entered a seven mile race. To be honest I think it's the only one I've ever heard of. The course was run over mixed terrain with a split of approximately 4.3 miles (7km) on grass or dirt paths and the remaining 2.6 miles (4.2km) on tarmac or gravel paths. The course can be described as very undulating or probably more accurately as 'hilly' and it's certainly a challenge.

marshals etc [photos: 7t / dani]

The course is made up of a 2km tail, followed by two clockwise loops and then the runners return to the start-finish via the tail. The first four kilometres are almost totally uphill, at which point there is a very steep downhill that takes runners down into the valley. This section is ever-so-slightly downhill and allows the runners to open up and get their pace up.

more terrain / feeling good at halfway [photos: 7t / dani]

The steepest section of the course comes at the end of the valley and is a 400 metre slog up to the end of the loop. It's generally around a 6% incline but my GPS data registered a couple of points where it hit double figures. After the second loop is complete it's time to head back to the start-finish, and the remaining two kilometres is largely, although not completely, downhill.

more park shots and me with 2km left to go [photos: 7t / dani]

At the end of the race, bespoke 'Sevenoaks 7' medals were given out by double gold winning Olympian Dame Kelly Holmes. The timing was done by chip which was embedded into the back of the race numbers and the official results were online later that day. I got around the course in a chip time of 51.40 (gun time 51.48) and was the 45th runner out of 257 to cross the line.

end [photos: 7t]

All in all this was a really enjoyable race and I am pretty certain that I put in the best performance I could possibly have done given my current fitness level. My kilometre splits were all over the place, but that's to be expected on a course like this. However my two 3.6km 'Sevenoaks 7' loops (see my Strava segments) were run with only an 8 second difference so I think I got my pacing spot on.

Time: 51.40 (gun time 51.48)
Position: 45 / 257
Full results: Swift Timing - Sevenoaks 7 2016

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Guildford parkrun

Guildford is a large town of Saxon origin in Surrey and has a population of around 140,000 people. The name is thought to derive from the words 'gold' and 'ford'. The 'gold' part is thought to be linked to the golden flowers or the golden coloured sand found near the ford. The town's location is down to the convenient existence of a gap in the north downs where the River Wey was forded - hence the 'ford' part.

In 1925 the local council bought a large area of land from Lord Onslow to prevent future development and to create a park that would 'remain for all time a lung of the town'. This area was formerly known as Paddocks but is now called Stoke Park. Since 10 March 2012 the park has been home to Guildford parkrun.


This venue has been on my to-do list ever since that inaugural event, but for some reason it has taken me over four years to get around to visiting. We ended up visiting during 'the nations biggest sports day' -#iamteamgb where various sports clubs put on special events to allow people to try different sports, and Guildford parkrun had an Olympian lined up to attend.

So I woke the family up nice and early and set off to run at event 222. We drove from Dartford and headed towards Guildford Spectrum which is a leisure complex that houses 4 swimming pools, an ice skating rink, tenpin bowling, a gym, an athletics stadium, football pitch, squash courts, kids soft play and a selection of cafes and restaurants. It also has a vast car park which has 1000 free parking spaces - it's a very short walk (under 5 minutes) to Stoke Park from here.

wide start line

The meeting spot for the parkrun is over in the north-east corner of the park, adjacent to the A25 and close to the rugby changing rooms and Burchatts Farm Barn. There are also toilets at the start (head around to the back of the building at the meeting area).

This venue attracts quite a large field of runners; the official average was 215 when I visited, but I would expect almost double that figure these days. Fortunately the start area is located on a grass playing field and allows a nice wide start line to be formed in between two parkrun flags.

near the beginning of each lap

This run takes place on a gently undulating two lap anti-clockwise course [my GPS data is here] which is run on a mixture of grass (2km) and people-cyclist shared use tarmac paths (3km). Although, as I understand it, the course is likely to be altered a little during the winter months.

After setting off on grass and running adjacent to the A25, the runners soon reach the first short tarmac section which passes the Wild Wood Adventure which we visited after the run. On their website it's described as 'treetop fun for kids who love adventure' and we visited this after then parkrun (my wife wrote about it on her blog).

shared-use path through the centre of the park

The 50 hectares of open space contain a playground, mini golf, tennis courts, skate park, model boating pond and a paddling pool. Sadly you don't see any of these from the course as you run around the park as they are all hidden away in the South-West corner of the park. There's also a swimming pool and lido and this is in the north-west corner.

Anyway the course progresses with the runners switching between grass and tarmac. After a long meandering section of tarmac through the centre of the park, the runners then enter a tree lined avenue which is where the uphill undulations seem to be most noticeable. This section ends at the easternmost point of the course where the runners transfer back onto grass and back towards the start-finish area.

the tree-lined section

As you run around the course there's not really a huge amount to take in. The bulk of the park is made up of sports pitches. In total these main open grass areas contain 7 football pitches (various sizes), 3 rugby pitches, 2 cricket pitches, 3 lacrosse pitches, and 6 rounders pitches. A few outcrops of trees exist and these have names such as Jubilee Wood and Peacock Wood.

The second lap is identical to the first and once complete, the runners simply enter the finish funnel back at the main meeting area where they can collect their finish token and then head off to be scanned.

the last part of the lap/course

As this is a very well attended event (378 on the day I visited) the finish funnel was quite long. At one point the queue of runners almost backed up over the finish line, but it looked like some quick-thinking marshals sorted it out before that happened.

With the run all done I had my barcode scanned just outside the adjacent building. Then, as we visited during the #iamteamgb special event, we got to meet and have a photo taken with Olympic sprint canoe athlete Rachel Cawthorn which was a nice way to round off a very pleasant morning.

post-run tokens / scanning and meeting rachel cawthorne

We ended up staying in Guildford for the whole day and eventually ended up hanging out at the Street Food Picnic which was brilliant.

For the record, Guildford parkrun was the last of the current set of Surrey parkruns for me to visit and you can see more information on all of the venues in the county on my Surrey parkrun Venues page.

Saturday, 27 August 2016

Dartford Harriers Open Competition August 2016

A bit of a last minute decision to run this race, but in the absence of a track session so far this week I thought a 3000 metre race would serve as an interesting alternative and being the last of this year's Dartford Harriers AC open competitions on home-turf made it irresistible.

Entries to all track and field events were £5 and made on-the-night only. Before my race started I was able to catch a quick glimpse of some of the 100m races, which looked like fun but I was glad that I had chosen the longer race.

The weather conditions were interesting. No noticeable wind but the temperature had been up to 30 degrees that day and the heat was quite intense. Still, once we got going I coped fairly well with it apart from my mouth feeling a little dry towards the end.

dhac open competition timetable of events

With the 3000m start time set at 19:05 I headed around to the back straight of the track which is where the 7-and-half-lap race begins. There were 14 runners in the race and I had already come up with a plan to try to attempt to run as even a race as possible.

With that in mind, when the starter's pistol was fired I slotted in right at the back of the pack. I knew that it would be easy to get caught up in the faster pace that the majority of the field would be running at. I wanted to finish in under 12 minutes, which was too soft a target to aim for. I thought I'd be able to go faster but didn't want to use the go out (too) hard and (try to) hang on method.

pre-race [thanks to brian page and dani for the photos]

So my plan was to run the first couple of laps at around 12 minute pace 3k pace (1.36 per lap) and then gradually speed it up. Despite purposefully running at the back of the pack I completed the first lap in 1.28, which was a bit faster than planned but effort-wise it felt right.

I stayed right at the back for the first 700 metres but then felt that I was being held back so I moved up a couple of places where there was some clear air and in the process spent a little to long out in lane 2. The runners at the front of the field were way off in the distance by now, but I just focussed on my own race.

3000m [thanks to brian page and dani for the photos]

My pacing was going well and I certainly felt much better than at my only other previous 3000 metre track race where I really suffered during the latter stages. I felt much more in control of what was happening this time around and enjoyed it a lot more. I passed one more runner and was then on my own for the rest of the race, which I think ultimately may have lead to me relaxing a little too much and not pushing hard enough at the end.

I really hate running with my phone on my arm and I was going to leave it off, but if I had I wouldn't have had  my Strava GPS data to analyse after. I also ran with a Garmin but my current computer set-up isn't compatible with it so annoyingly I can't pull any data off of it (I'd like to change this soon).

full results from the power of 10 website

Before the race, I had looked up my previous 3000 metre track best time (11.26.8) and didn't think I'd get that close to it. However, I did manage to get close to it. In fact I was only .6 of a second away from equalling it, which in retrospect I probably could have done if I had had some competition over the last couple of laps. Or if I had just put more effort in during the last 200 metres, which I probably could have done if I had dug a little deeper.

My kilometre splits worked out to be 3.51 / 3.49 / 3.47.

Official result:
Time: 11.27.45
Position: 11 / 14
Full results: Power of 10 - Dartford Harriers Open Meeting 3000m

Instagram video: Slow-motion video 1 (lap 1, first corner)
Instagram video: Slow-motion video 2 (mid-race)

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Run>Dartford: Thames River Path 10k

The Thames River Path 10k was the last of the 2016 Run>Dartford series and took place on Friday 19 August. Before I continue with the post about this race here are the links to the blogs for the first four races of the series..

Race 1: Dartford Heath 5k
Race 2: Central Park 4 Mile
Race 3: Darenth Country Park 2 Mile Relay
Race 4: Joydens Wood 5k

I came into this race in 5th place overall on the consolidated points table. This has mostly been possible through consistency rather than any exceptional age-grading scores. The runners in the top five positions at the end of the series were to be awarded trophies, so I had plenty of motivation to put in as good a performance as possible.

eager to get going...

Those familiar with the local area should know the ASDA at Greenhithe. Next to the main vehicle entrance to the store car park is an entrance to the Thames River Path. The meeting point for the race was found about 100 metres or so along the path. Weather conditions were nice and cool but it was also fairly windy.

The route for this race was an out-and-back with a small loop at the far end. Underfoot was a mixture of stony trail paths, grass, tarmac, and gravelly paths. The path is fairly narrow, especially at the beginning so in order to avoid congestion, runners had been organised into three waves and were dispatched at 10 second intervals - times were then adjusted after the race to reflect each runner's actual finish time.

path near the start/finish

I was put into wave A and sent off with the first bunch of runners. By the the time I reached the 1 kilometre point I had the feeling that I may have gone out a little too hard, and the 3.49 minutes that had elapsed on my Garmin confirmed this. Naturally my pace slowed after this point.

On the 'out' section of the race, the blinding setting sun made it tricky to see many details so I was extra careful as the route passed through some cycling restriction barriers during the section that passed underneath the 'Queen Elizabeth II Bridge' which is better known as Dartford Bridge.

looking back towards the start area

The view out onto the Thames was nice and despite the chaos of the Friday evening traffic 137 metres above our heads, it was a peaceful place to run. The route continued along the path past the imposing 215 metre high chimney (fourth tallest in the UK) of the now decommissioned Littlebrook D Power Station.

The last of the industrial areas to pass was the Longreach Sewage Treatment Works, after this the race entered the Dartford Marshes area. It's a small area of marshland that once streched all the way along the Thames Estuary and is comprised of arable fields, grazing areas, scrubland and drainage ditches.


The Dartford Creek Tidal Flood Barrier was soon in sight and this marked the end of the 'out' section. A small loop was run at this point which turned the runners around and sent them back from whence they came; back along the marshes, past the sewage treatment works and the power station. Under the bridge and then to the finish right at the end of the path.

My course GPS data can be viewed on Strava via the following link: Thames River Path 10k

The Run>Dartford series 2016 participation medal was awarded to all runners who completed a minimum of four out of the five races in the series. It's a great looking medal which features the Dartford Warbler. As usual, there were plenty of other runners milling around analysing their performances.

For me, I started too fast, slowed down gradually throughout the first half, then I had a stitch for about a mile from 5.5km until just after the 7km point. I managed to hold a steady pace throughout the stitch and then gradually speed up through the last three kilometres so it wasn't too bad. However my finish time was about a minute slower that I had expected to run.

medal and trophy

After some quick calculations the race director was ready to announce the overall prize winners of the series. I had ended up in fourth position overall which I would never expected at the start of the series so as some might say, I was 'well chuffed'! I received a nice trophy which I've managed to find a lovely spot for at home.

The full results were put online on the Run>Dartford website soon after and I had finished in 5th position on the evening. But of course this series uses age grading to determine finish positions and points for the table, so I was 12th overall on the evening with an age grading of 65.81%. That translated into 65.81 points to add to my tally in the consolidated points table and I finished on 320.11 points in total. It's been a fantastic series and I'm looking forward to 2017 already!

Full Results:
Time: 42.51
Position by age grade: 12/45 (5th position by time)
Full results: Thames River Path 2016
Points in the consolidated points table: 320.11 (fourth position)

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Mount Ephraim 10k 2016

Mount Ephraim is the name of an Edwardian country house in Hernhill, near Faversham in North East Kent. It is well-known for its terraced gardens and is open to the public between March and September. It is also a popular venue for weddings and functions.

There are two 10k races that place here each year that are hosted by Nice-Work and support local charity Porchlight, who provide much needed support to vulnerable people throughout the county. In February there is an off-road race and in August there is a road race. This blog is about the road race.

mount ephraim

Although I had been mulling over entering this race for quite some time, it was only the day before the race that I actually entered. The Nice Work webpage linked to a few sign-up options but I opted to use the Run Britain online entry page - mostly because they do not charge a booking fee. As I am a club runner I paid the £14 affiliated entry fee while unaffiliated runners would have paid the full £17 for the pleasure of taking part.

On the day, car parking was available for all entrants in the large on-site car park within the grounds of Mount Ephraim. I collected my race number and timing chip from race HQ which was set up on the lawn outside the main house. Toilets were available for use just adjacent to the main house.

nice work race hq

The ladies and disabled toilets looked fairly nice but the gents could do with a bit of a make-over. They were also out of toilet paper which probably caught a few people out. It reminded me how important it is to come prepared for the worst at races [always bring your own toilet paper, full change of clothes, safety pins etc...].

At 10.30am there was a short briefing and the race got underway - there was a special note made that the race is run on roads that remain open to traffic and that headphones are not allowed (UK Athletics are keener than ever for this rule to be enforced than in previous years).

all ready to go

It starts on grass and features a small lap of a cricket field before changing to tarmac and heading downhill past the car park and out onto the local country lanes for one large clockwise loop. The route undulates as it passes through the villages of Hernhill, Fostall, and Dargate. There are plenty fields, animals and orchards to be seen throughout the course.

The course was marshalled at all the important points such as junctions but I was careful to keep an eye out for vehicles just to be doubly sure to avoid any conflict. The drivers I encountered were careful enough around the runners and I didn't hear of any issues.

off we go

Just after Dargate, at around 5.5km into the race, the route has its longest stretch of continuous climbing and this lasts until around the 8km point where the highest point of the course is reached. From here the red-bricked facade of Mount Ephraim's country house can clearly be seen in the distance and it looked way further than 2km away!

The final 2 kilometres of the race are largely downhill, however there is a sting in the tail as the course turns back into the grounds of Mount Ephraim. Underfoot becomes a little gravelly and there is a fairly sharp uphill to negotiate before reaching the finish line just outside the house. You can view my full GPS trace of the course on Strava, here; Mount Ephraim 10k 2016.

out into the countryside

As far my race goes, I had turned up with the idea to run this just under race pace as I have(had) the final race of the Run Dartford series just a few days later and didn't want to exhaust my legs before that. However, in the end I felt that I should really give the course an honest effort. So I did and I was very pleased with my pacing which I reckon I got spot on (ie I don't think I could have got around any faster). I'd say that runners should expect this course to add about 2 minutes to their current fast, flat 10k time.

The full results were posted online a few hours later and I had run a chip time of 43:20 (gun time 43:24). I finished in 22nd position out of 279 runners and was the 19th male finisher. At present there are a couple of issues with my result. Firstly, my name is spelt wrong.... twice. I am recorded as 'Stephen Stockwel' instead of 'Steven Stockwell' which seems a little sloppy to me.

great support at the finish line

Secondly, I registered as an attached athlete through my running club Dartford Harriers but my club's name has not been assigned to me. Again it all feels a little sloppy and I imagine that my details have been manually inputted as I registered fairly close to the advance entry deadline.

I have sent a message to Nice Work to ask about correcting my name in the results and at time of writing am currently awaiting for a response or for it to be actioned. I hadn't spotted the part about the running club when I sent the message so I haven't made a request for that to be added at time of writing. [I'll update this post when/if I have some more info].

exploring the gardens

Overall I had a fantastic morning. The weather conditions were perfect, the atmosphere was friendly and relaxed, and the course was great. I spent some time exploring the gardens with my daughter after the run and it was lovely. I'd love to run the winter off-road version of this race [seems to be held in February], so I'm just hoping that it doesn't clash with any of the cross-country fixtures.

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